'How' To Think Vs. 'What' To Think
At first glance, this may not appear to be as crucial an issue as most people might suspect; however, it is the contention of this author that it is, in fact, the single most important factor to consider as it relates to both the state of our planet, and the survival of our species not to mention our civilization and its cultures as we know them.
While we pride ourselves on the advances of modern science on a host of frontiers, we significantly fail to understand (or at least acknowledge) the underlying principles of learning, and how to apply those principles to advance both the intelligence of our species, and the level of maturity and responsibility of individuals within our society.
In the last decade there has been considerable mention of the dumbing' of America; that is, the deliberate reductions in spending across the board in our educational systems. This is based on the theory that less intelligent and less informed citizens are easier to control by the forces that seek to rule the roost', and have their way with both military and economical policies which benefit themselves, (the wealthy), while harming the rest of us.
This point is a no-brainer'. Any view of our society shows that this is indeed true. The fortunate and the clever among us are constantly trying to have their way, (and succeeding), and thus becoming more wealthy and more powerful. There have been countless revelations of greed and corruption at the highest levels, not to mention both out-sourcing', and the history of extraordinary record profit-taking by banks, oil conglomerates and multi-national companies. Unfortunately this is being done at the expense of others. The middle class in America is currently under siege, and the poor have been kept underfoot for as long as memory goes back.
All of this can be said to be a function of intelligence'. If society were more intelligent, overall, they would not put up with this type of behavior for even an instant. We may not be ants or bees, but any fool can see that co operation and sharing are far better traits than greed and control.
This brings us to the matter of intelligence and learning. How many of you know anything about the way your brain is structured, and the way that you learn? Did you know, for example, that the brain is a triune (or 3-part) system of integrated segments? The oldest part is called the R-complex (reptilian) which dates back to more primitive times. It can be crudely likened to a spark plug' providing the core power of your brain.
Then we have the Limbic system surrounding the R-complex. It is the seat of our emotions, and responsible for instant reactions to events both external and internal. This is sometimes referred to as your fright or flight' mechanism, because the Limbic system controls the glands in the body, and is responsible for the secretion of hormones into the bloodstream, such as testosterone (one of the many that most people have heard of and know something about). The Limbic system does not think', as we commonly conceive of thought, but merely reacts to stimuli in a mostly automatic fashion.
Lastly, there is the actual thinking' part of the brain (Neo-cortex). This is the part that knows who you are, that can think, analyze and rationalize. This is the newest part of the brain in evolutionary terms.
The only problem is, (and this is what most people don't know) that these 3 brain systems each have their own type of memory, and sense of space and time. They constantly interact with one another in very complex ways and this includes even to the point where one system can overly influence one of the others. For example, a wild emotional response within the Limbic system can actually flood the Neo-cortex with an overwhelming dose of hormones (released from the various glands) which may temporarily overcome the thinking patterns normally carried on there by the individual, and therefore influence the thoughts and feelings of that individual. This temporary condition may be strong enough to cause abnormal behavior which can then produce drastic results; i.e. anger, violence, even murder.
The crucial part of this process lies in the developmental structure' of the Neo-cortex, (the thinking part of the brain) which is mostly influenced by learning. A strong personality may be able to resist the influence of the Limbic system, (especially strong hormonal outbursts); while a weaker or poorly trained one may not.
This is the very information that is generally not taught and therefore unknown to the public at large - while it is manipulated by many who do have knowledge of it. Why? A good question.it has to do with the fact that we would all (as a society) have to form new understandings of how and why people act the way that they do. While we say that we know each and every person on the planet is unique, we don't really understand how this applies to their thinking, and to the formation of their personalities. Thus we are confused about what it takes to push individuals over the edge. It would turn our Justice system on its ear, because the rule of law would no longer apply evenly. People do have different thresholds, and similar events can indeed affect different people in vastly different ways.
No doubt you have often heard people remark about aberrant or deviant behavior in ways that question why one person would react one way to a situation (perhaps commit a crime), while another would not? This is the problem that we face as humans..trying to understand this very complex behavior, and why it varies in different people.
Unfortunately, the answers are so complex that we have been forced to create laws which clearly define one behavior (and hence one law) for all and which hold the individual responsible in most cases whether they truly are or not. It is all we have been able to come up with in our attempt to treat people evenly.
But it is not the only answer. The real conundrum may be that we have been looking at the problem in reverse all along; that is, rather than trying to sort out and understand all the myriad of factors (from childhood on up) which may be involved in someone's deviant behavior, perhaps what we should be looking for is a universal' method to correct those problems and this can be doneand done far easier than most of you may realize.
It all comes down to how' we learn something in the first place. If we learned a bad habit, or a deviant behavior, can we then learn' to overcome that? The answer is yes. The shame is that we have had the answer with us here on good old planet Earth for hundreds (if not thousands) of years.
So what is this great answer, you may ask? You could call it practice' although that may sound a bit simplified for most people. Look at it this way..if you want to learn to Bowl, you go to a bowling alley and start throwing balls. At first you may be quite erratic and be all over the lane, but as you continue to throw balls, the neuronal pathway that is being used in your brain to do this action becomes sort of etched' in place and so you slowly become better at it. This is no great secret..any scientist can probably tell you the same thing. The brain learns to do this task better and better the more you do it, because it becomes easier for the brain to fire off the particular pattern of brain cells involved each time you try. It learns and remembers the pathway. Naturally, at some point you will reach the apex of your particular physical ability to carry out the task.
Of course, some people will be better at doing a given task than others, (as per inherited physical abilities), but this does not change the fact that nearly everyone will improve at it with practice. That's the way the brain works.
Now you take this same concept and apply it to relaxation. This is what the ancients learned when they discovered meditation. If you practice relaxation properly, you will get better and better at it just like anything. But what our psychiatrists and psychologists don't seem to grasp is that this change becomes permanent over time. Simply put, if you practice relaxing enough, you will become permanently' relaxed more of the time.
Here is another example you may be able to see clearly; for anyone who has ever decided to work out, the first few days (or even weeks) may be painful and slow. But, as your muscles become toned and used to the work load, the pain goes away and you are blessed with more pep and more bounce in your step. The trick is to understand that when the work-out is over, the pep does not go away. You actually feel better most of the day. The muscles do not lose all their tone when you stop working out. This tells us that the effects of the work-out spill over into the rest of our day, and that the muscles involved simply work better all the time not just when you are working out.
It is the same thing with meditation. The effects of doing it properly will spill over into the rest of your day, and you feel more relaxed all the day long. The brain has learned the pathway to relaxation, and can do it more easily. The tone of practicing it is not lost when you stop.
When you couple this with the commonly known scientific principle that a muscle cannot be both tensed and relaxed at the same time, then you begin to get the drift. People who suffer from tension would be less tense during their day if they practiced relaxing, and even more so if they got good at it. You cannot be tense when you are relaxed.
Fortunately, there is a very simple exercise that can accomplish this goal (over time) without learning a bunch of complicated positions or philosophies. Furthermore, there is even a reliable method of testing to see if it has worked in an individual, and to verify that they have actually integrated this process into their brains. I mention this because we seem to be having a bit of a problem rehabilitating the criminals that we send to prison. Repeat offenders are rampant in our society. This method (and the verification of it) would take a tremendous amount of violence out of the system, and these people could then go on to learn the trade skills that they have a talent for, and to fit back into society without re-offending.
No doubt most of you are aware that the brain emits brain-waves', and that they can be measured quite simply by hooking a person up to a bio-feedback machine. What you may not know is that there are four categories (or levels) of waves that the brain emits, from the awake stage to the deep-sleep stage. They are Alpha, Beta, Theta and Delta waves, with Delta waves being the deepest and longest waves produced. Why does this have meaning? Because Delta waves are the ones produced in a very deep trance-like state, when you are the most relaxed that you can be. This is the level that one tries to achieve when meditating, and it takes some practice. You cannot do it while tense.
Are you starting to get the drift? If you teach someone to go into a delta-wave trance, (which you can verify by observing the brain waves they emit), then you have taught them the ultimate in relaxation. They cannot achieve it if they are tense. You can't fake it.
Therefore, with enough practice, they will learn and acquire the habit' of relaxation, and it will become permanently etched into their brains. This structuring makes the Neo-cortex much stronger, and far more able to resist unhealthy emotional feelings which may arise out of every day life events and conditions. Just as an example, a person may resist flying into a rage over some incident, (which would normally have the Limbic system rushing hormones through the bloodstream), simply because the mind has been made stronger and can now resist such an impulse. I don't know about you, but it has been my general experience that relaxed' people are not violent, or even problematic.
How long does all this take? Depends on how much you practice it. At 15-20 minutes a day one would be quite adept in a couple of years. In the case of prisoners, one might want to see an hour or more per day out of them. You will know when they have mastered the technique. Just give it enough time to become permanent.
One last note; proper meditation has many more benefits and side-effects than what I have discussed here. For example, the mind can be directed to control certain of the neuro-transmitters that are produced in the brain and to call upon them on demand' to relieve pain (even extreme pain). Furthermore, because stress is reduced to a minimum in daily living, the average person can be far healthier than normally would be expected, and may end up looking 20 or more years younger than they really are. When you are calm, your heart rate is slower, your metabolism is slower, and you simply age more slowly than what we generally observe. Quality of life goes up when one is happy.
By the way, did I mention that you are smarter when you think in a calm fashion?
Wouldn't it be nice if the majority of professionals in our society were teaching this skill to their patients? Even better, wouldn't it be nice if our children were being taught this in our schools? In one generation we might produce a society of super-kids. One does not let a novice run amok on a super computer. You have to be trained to use it first. Why do we then let it be different with the human brain the greatest super computer of them all? Perhaps we need to consider teaching people How' to think, and not so much of What' to think!